On the day David Dein claimed Arsenal need the investment of Alisher Usmanov because they "struggle to finish fourth", a timely riposte. The only question after this contest was: how did Arsenal not finish with four?
The margin of victory would undoubtedly have been greater had they played with a full complement, instead of spending 41 minutes with 10 men after Philippe Senderos's dismissal. The Swiss defender is looking ever more a liability and the only dispute about his red card was whether or not Nwankwo Kanu – who he pulled back – was offside.
It meant Arsenal had more discomfort in the match than their slick, pacy football deserved even if, as Portsmouth's manager, Harry Redknapp ,said, they were aided by "gift goals".
As justification for his involvement in a possible takeover Dein, the former vice-chairman, had claimed Arsenal were in danger of being "left behind" without more money being spent. But the team who started here cost just £30m to assemble – £5m less than Sunderland parted with this summer – and played like they were worth 10 times that outlay.
"I have a good team and have enough quality to fight for the championship," said an ebullient Arsène Wenger afterwards. "I have enough belief that these players share my ambition. Money can always be enough or never enough."
Neither Dein nor Usmanov, nor indeed the club's key shareholder, Danny Fiszman, were at the Emirates Stadium yesterday, which was a pity because all three would have seen that cash is not everything. Wenger's eye for a player is priceless and in Gaël Clichy, the left-back acquired for little more than £250,000 from Cannes in 2003, he had an illustration of exactly what his football philosophy is about.
The athletic 22-year-old was alert in defence and attack and set the tempo as early as the seventh minute when he quickly dispossessed Glen Johnson, Portsmouth's £4m deadline-day signing from Chelsea, with the ball breaking to Robin van Persie inside the penalty area. The striker was upended by David James – a bad piece of timing, with England games looming, in more ways than one – and Emmanuel Adebayor coolly side-footed in the penalty.
It was a blur. And so was much of Arsenal's football. "Fantastic," said Wenger of the first-half display and Portsmouth appeared to freeze. None of their attacking intent was present and the perennially impressive Cesc Fabregas added a second when, from a corner, he reached Gilberto Silva's flicked header, swivelled ahead of his marker, Sean Davis, and shot low into the net.
It was his fourth goal of the season, as many as he achieved in the whole of the last campaign, and Wenger accepted an invitation to compare the Spaniard to Manchester United's Paul Scholes in terms of technique and intent – with the qualification that he is, indeed, still just 20.
Finally Portsmouth responded. Redknapp switched things round at half-time and his team came out of the blocks. Moments after James scrambled away Senderos's header, the defender was dismissed for his challenge on Kanu and from the free-kick Manuel Almunia beat out John Utaka's shot straight to Davis. Under pressure from Kolo Touré, he ballooned over.
It was a pivotal moment, especially as, soon after, Fabregas's quick free-kick caught out Pedro Mendes, Nico Kranjcar and Utaka for Tomas Rosicky to slam a low shot through Johnson's legs to beat James. It was a woeful goal to concede. "As bad a goal as I have ever seen," said Redknapp.
Instantly, however, Portsmouth scored, when Kanu attempted to control Utaka's cross but inadvertently steered the ball beyond Almunia. But it was too late.
Chances did come, and Almunia is a far from a convincing goalkeeper, especially with his tendency to push the ball back into play, rather than away. There was a long-range shot by Johnson and a fatal hesitation by David Nugent which allowed Touré to deflect his effort over. "We had a lorry-load of chances," said Redknapp.
Arsenal, to their credit, also pressed, Abou Diaby's glaring miss with a free header from Clichy's centre being followed by a rasping shot from distance from the French midfielder, who is another classic Wenger bargain buy.
"We are super-ambitious," said the manager. He senses something is again stirring. On this form a top-four finish should not be the struggle that Dein has claimed.Reuse content